Thursday, January 10, 2013

Send Em’ To The Principal’s Office!

When I was in elementary school, I had a bit of a tough time of it.  From first to third grade I spent an inordinate amount of time in the principal’s office, the punitive measure of choice at my elementary school.  Every paper thrown, inappropriate comment bellowed and t-shirt removed during a reading lesson (I won’t get into this) evoked the same response from my teachers:
“Go to the principal’s office.”
The office secretary knew me by name, I knew the number of carpet squares I would trod upon en-route and had more or less memorized the spiel I’d get from the principal.
“Don’t do _________ again, Zach.   Don’t you realize that you’re disrupting the class?  I’m disappointed in you.”
It struck me later while studying the principles of behavior that, although my elementary school teachers were sending me to the principal’s office as a punishment for my various infractions, going to the office was not punishing at all.
Martin and Pear (2003) define a Punisher as “an event that, when presented immediately following a behavior, causes the behavior to decrease in frequency.”
Martin and Pear (2003) nicely illustrate the Principle of Punishment:
If, in a given situation, somebody does something that is immediately followed by a punisher, then that person is less likely to do the same thing again when he/she next encounters a similar situation.
Additionally, Cooper, Heron and Heward  (2007) note that “like reinforcement” punishment is“defined by its effects on the future frequency of behavior.”
I assume that my teachers’ propensity for sending me to the principal’s office was “done with the intention of reducing [my] tendencies to behave in certain ways” (Skinner, 1953).
However, in retrospect, it didn’t work.  If going to the principal’s office were effective as a punisher, it would’ve reduced the future frequency of my behavior (for the record, I removed my shirt several more times during reading group).
So why did they keep sending me up to that office if it didn’t reduce my behavior?  I think there are a couple of reasons.

Read more of Zachary Ikkanda's Special Education Advisor Blog article HERE.
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